Hannah Baker is a girl who has a high school experience that many other women can really relate to. [Sorry, *was*]. Hannah Baker killed herself and death isn’t going to stop her from telling her side of the story.
Don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled anything for you. This is where the series begins. We jump into this story as Clay Jensen gets a mysterious shoe-box full of cassette tapes on his doorstep. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that these were recorded by his recently departed classmate, Hannah Baker. She left behind thirteen tapes, each numbered and dedicated to a particular person, more specifically how their actions played a part in her suicide, and if you are listening to them, that means one of the 13 tapes is “yours”. There are only two rules: listen to them and pass them along. Break these rules and the tapes will be released for everyone to hear. We follow along with Clay as he sees the last few years at Liberty High School through Hannah’s eyes – with each new tape introducing someone else into her narrative. As Clay listens to the secrets Hannah laid bare, he begins seeing his classmates in a new and unflattering light and struggles with the realization that he, too, played a role in the end of her life.
This thirteen part Netflix original series follows the novel, 13 Reasons Why, written by Jay Asher, who played an active role in this production. I read the book years ago, while in high school, and seeing the same story in this context really hit close to home. The series doesn’t stray too far from the story line of the book, but drastically expands on each of the supporting characters. In this retelling, they also delve more deeply into Clay’s psyche as he comes to term with not only everything that happened to Hannah, but with the fact that he also had something to do with it. It is a dark, but unnervingly realistic depiction of what many teenagers go through during high school.
Having a history of anxiety and depression, both in high school and the years following, I felt like the series really did justice to this disease and didn’t sugar coat the struggle that those who suffer from it experience. I highly recommend 13 Reasons Why to anyone that is interested in feeling an enlightening profound sadness, especially those of high school age. While it is angsty, and at times fairly melodramatic, hey, so is high school. This recommendation comes with a disclaimer, however. I binge watched the series in the span of 36 hours before writing this review, which is not how it is intended to be viewed and made some of the heavier episodes difficult to endure, especially those leading up to the season finale. Several episodes in the latter half even go so far as to include a warning of very graphic and suggestive material, which are not to be taken lightly. The director and producers of the show consulted with counselors, experts in this field, and survivors to ensure accurate and uncomfortably head-on depictions of not only suicide, but sexual violence as well. Many have commended them for this, but these scenes have also been criticized as “triggering” for those with similar experiences.
While Hannah Baker’s story is fictional, it certainly isn’t a fantasy. 13 Reasons Why was very meaningful to me and many other fans of Jay Asher’s novel, and it needed to be brought to life. That being said, know what you are getting into. Take your time and remember that support systems are always out there.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
Follow Michaela on Twitter @mrunladylike.